NREL: Use public lands to produce energy

By Susanne Retka Schill
The potential for renewable energy production from public lands is significant and should be developed, Dan Arvizu, director of the U.S. DOE National Renewable Energy Laboratory, told the U.S. Senate Energy Committee in a March hearing. According to Arvizu, if 10 percent of the wind, solar and biomass potential on public lands were developed along with 100 percent of the known geothermal potential, the total energy contribution would be 640 gigawatts. "Given that total U.S. electrical generation capacity is 1,088 gigawatts, you can begin to see the significance of renewable resources on public lands," he said.

Arvizu also told Senate committee members that NREL has determined that enough cellulosic ethanol could be produced to displace 8 percent of U.S. gasoline consumption by using leftover residue materials from logging and milling operations as feedstock. He noted that the percentage doesn't include the harvesting of trees for energy. With the forest destruction caused by pine beetles, there is extensive additional feedstock in the Western U.S., he said.

The director also posed several potential barriers to the development of public lands for renewable energy use. "Unduly burdensome fees and regulations in a leasing program could stifle development of the very clean energy resources that we as a nation are striving to encourage," he said, adding that the unique economics of these types of projects must be understood and reflected in future leases. Arvizu also recommended government agencies work together to ensure federal leases for renewable energy development are awarded to renewable energy developers, and to protect against those who would obtain leases only to drive up the cost or block development.